Un-evolved

It’s easy to laugh at the US creationism Intelligent Design movement, because us Brits are made of smarter stuff. Aren’t we? Nope:

More than half the British population does not accept the theory of evolution… more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons.

OK, any survey should be taken with a pinch of salt, but the Flying Spaghetti Monster needs to give these people a good slap with his Noodly Appendage. [Edit: by “these people” I mean anyone who wants creationism/ID taught in science classes.]

Update

There’s a good point being made on Davblog:

Smylers rightfully points out some loose thinking on my part – which actually stems from some loose questions on MORI’s part (or maybe loose reporting of the questions on the BBC’s part). The point is that evolution does nothing to explain the origin of life. It only considers the development of life. So if you’re asked what best describes your view of the origin and development of life then evolution shouldn’t really be considered a possible answer.

Personally I don’t think that most people would have considered the question that deeply. And most people see it as a binary choice – evolution or creationism. So I’m still very surprised and worried by the data.

33 thoughts on “Un-evolved

  1. Stephen says:

    I think it shows the intuitively unsatisfactory nature of the scientific take on the origin of life, the Universe and everything. As Pootergeek says, atheism is pretty depressing, and this poll simply shows that many people do not believe that we are here as the result of the accidental confluence of blind, random forces. One of my rabbis, who is a medical doctor, frequently expresses the view that anyone who honestly believes that the incredible complexity and diversity that we see around us was the product of random activity, must be under some form of self-delusion. If you feel compelled by logical, rational thought to reject the religious viewpoint, that’s your prerogative, but recognise that others may feel compelled by common sense and a tradition which stretches back many thousands of years, and that itself gave rise to much that the West with justification prides itself on, to doubt the scientific viewpoint.

  2. Squander Two says:

    > the accidental confluence of blind, random forces.

    On the one hand, evolution isn’t random. On the other, most people don’t understand that. I was a bit doubtful about evolution myself, until I got my head round it properly. It’s non-randomness is a key part of its believability. And its effectiveness, of course. What people don’t realise when they say that the very idea of, say, an elephant coming about through random chance is ridiculous, is that Darwinists agree with them.

    > evolution does nothing to explain the origin of life.

    Firstly, that’s splitting hairs, as it does explain the origin of every single life form, if not life itself. Secondly, yes it does. (You could be pedantic and say that the science which studies the origin of life itself isn’t technically evolutionary science, but it did start out as a branch of it and, in the great science versus religion debate, it’s basically the same thing.)

  3. Squander Two says:

    Oh, and I know I’m always saying this, but these surveys piss me off because they’re not evidence that people are stupid; they’re evidence that teachers are ineffective. If you do a survey of a class of maths students and discover that none of them can add up, shouldn’t you be critical of the teacher whose class they’ve been taking for the last five years, rather than the students themselves? Yet these surveys are always presented as an indictment of the public. They’re not. They’re an indictment of our schools.

  4. Squander Two says:

    You know, I’m going to go on about this even more. Serves you right for blogging about one of my pet hates.

    Evolution is an utterly ridiculous idea. It is also true, but that doesn’t make it non-ridiculous. People who haven’t studied it even slightly (i.e., almost everyone) are divided into two groups: the people who think we evolved from monkeys because they’ve been told so and they believe whatever they’re told; and the people who’ve given it some thought, noticed what an insane idea it is, and rejected it. The latter group are not, by any reasonable definition of the word, the clever ones.

  5. Gary says:

    > I think it shows the intuitively unsatisfactory nature of the scientific take on the origin of life, the Universe and everything.

    My gut feeling is that it shows the unsatisfactory nature of badly-worded opinion polls :)

    > If you feel compelled by logical, rational thought to reject the religious viewpoint

    …in science classes? Yep, and that’s got nothing to do with any belief system. ID isn’t science: it’s “creation science” with references to the big bearded bloke removed. I’ve no problem with it being taught in religious or philosophy classes.

  6. Stephen says:

    I never said ID was science, and I don’t believe it should be taught as if it was, or even taught at all. I was simply pointing out that people might have valid reasons for not accepting the scientific account of the origin of the Universe, notwithstanding the fact that science labels them non-valid. In fact that’s more or less the point: I can accept the fact that you don’t accept my tradition, and I can accept the fact that you have your belief in science. But having stepped outside the scientific framework, I am no longer bound, as it were, by its judgements on my beliefs, just as you are not bound by my tradition’s judgements on your beliefs. The problem as I see it is that many who hold the scientific belief are unable to grasp that it is just a belief and not the only possible way for an intelligent person to think.

  7. tm says:

    >intuitively unsatisfactory nature of the scientific take on the origin of life, the Universe and everything

    Except that that scientific take successfully describes, not only the way things on this planet work, but also the surrounding universe and environment? Things that most religions at base level simply deny exist? Ok, so that’s because the people who came up with religion didn’t *know* about any of those things – but we do, so we can’t let that stop us.

    Hear hear to squander two on the evolution not being random point.

    Also we always hear about ‘common sense’ in these situations. Its a point we made in the past by several certifiable geniuses: What does common sense have to do with it? Relativity goes against common sense. Of course it does! What the hell does you mind and intuition know about travelling at the speed of light? Quantum physics goes against common sense. What does your ‘common sense’ know about operations far below the nanometre scale? Evolution takes place over billions of years and many millions of generations. What precisely has prepared your ‘common sense’ to judge that? All that is left is cold rational thought. And it seems to work…

    Don’t get me wrong – in a world where speeds are measured in small fractions of the speed of light, distances are measured comparatively small multiples of a unit about the size of a meter and perceived time passes is comparatively large chunks of seconds your common sense works great. It works as well as rational thought in that environment, because, of course, at that level it’s the same thing.

    Oh and you said atheism is depressing. While I don’t consider myself an atheist (too I don’t believe in any of the religions currently on offer. I’ve never found that depressing in the least. But then again – people keep telling me that radiohead are depressing and I’ve never got it. I mean I know their songs are downbeat but I’ve never found that they get me down – often the very opposite. You’re all quite clever, you can work out the parallel there for yourself ;-)

  8. tm says:

    >The problem as I see it is that many who hold the scientific belief are unable to grasp that it is just a belief and not the only possible way for an intelligent person to think.

    Hmmm, you see I said I wan’t an atheist. So theoretcially I am open to the idea of a religeon should the ‘right’ one come along. However I rather suspect that should it happen, I’d prove to be quite resistant to it, and that *does* depress me. But at least I can see it – how may people who hold ‘the religeous belief’ can say the same ;-)

    Come on gary – you love these polls – look at all the interesting debate that it’s produced ;-)

  9. Squander Two says:

    > having stepped outside the scientific framework …

    To what extent? I mean, gravity still works on you, right? If you get cancer, you going to go see an oncologist or a faith healer?

    > many who hold the scientific belief are unable to grasp that it is just a belief and not the only possible way for an intelligent person to think.

    No, science is not a belief; it is a system for evaluating belief. Apart from that, you have a point. However, that point is often taken too far these days: the valid point that religion need not be bound by scientific knowledge has developed into a belief that science is merely a matter of opinion. Which is why news reporters now present pressure groups disagreeing with the conclusions of double-blind controlled studies as if it’s impossible to say who’s right.

  10. Stephen says:

    >Except that that scientific take successfully describes, not only the way things on this planet work, but also the surrounding universe and environment? Things that most religions at base level simply deny exist?

    I said the scientific take on the origin of the universe, not the description of how it works. My religion does not deny the laws of science- in fact many great rabbis, such as Maimonides, who was a physician, were scientists of a sort, and Jewish sages discovered many astronomical facts. Orthodox Judaism has always sought to understand the way the world works, the better to know the mind of G-d. It is said that the Torah is the blueprint of the Universe, therefore it is in some sense the distillation of all of the natural rules and laws. The important difference, of course, is that we believe that G-d wrote the Torah before He created the Universe, as He is super-natural.

    This belief was one of the things which allowed scientific thinking to arise: when humans worshipped nature as divine, they were precluded from examining it and trying to understand it. Once we saw, thanks to Abraham Avinu, that the world worked according to natural laws created by G-d, we could set about discovering those laws. The Midrash says that this is how Abraham Avinu discovered G-d: he worked out that the world did run according to laws, and therefore realised it must have been created by One who set those laws in motion: once he achieved this realisation, G-d introduced himself, as it were.

    This brings us back to the origin of the Universe: the version told in Genesis, long derided as being at odds with science, has come to be quite closely supported by scientific understanding, particularly as regards the Big Bang.

    Some thoughts on common sense: if it serves us well in the macro world, it could be that it is meant to guide human activity in the arena in which it normally takes place. As we move to study more extreme states (subatomic particles, nanoseconds and below) common sense breaks down, as if we are moving out of its useful range. It could be that we are starting to see the limits of the “simulation” (Jewish thought has always seen the Universe as a Matrix-type simulation at one level of understanding) or that additional complexity hides beneath the seeming simplicity, ad infinitum, for some purpose we do not, and perhaps cannot, know. (Has it ever ocurred to you that nuclear physics is in some sense a dismal failure? The original idea was to explain the multiplicity of elements in the periodic table as different combinations of three fundamental particles? Yet we have now discovered more “fundamental” particles than there are elements!)

  11. Stephen says:

    On the random point: I am quite aware that evolution does not operate randomly; what I meant by randomness was what I see as the implied origin of the Universe in scientific theory: that it just “happened” somehow. Perhaps that is an unfair characterisation, but it’s the impression I have.

  12. Stephen says:

    On the depressed atheist: I was actually quoting Pootergeek, although I suppose that I do find the thought of atheism depressing, because for me it seems to make irrelevant the prime goal of life, which is to grow as much as possible, to nurture the Divine spark in ourselves, during our time in the physical realm, because once we leave it, no further growth is possible. If there is nothing outside the Universe then I feel it has no purpose, and I find that depressing.

  13. Stephen says:

    On stepping outside the scientific framework: I suppose this is an imprecise formulation. Perhaps what I really mean is something closer to “recognising the limits of, and the place for, science”. Given that science is the study of the natural world, it is obviously limited to the world. So it cannot deal with the super-natural, whatever exists outside the Universe. The position of science is that there is nothing outside the Universe, which is consistent, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is therefore true. And for me, thinking about the origin of the universe is an important clue. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the Big Bang “just happened”, but science by definition cannot go “before” the Big Bang, cannot go “outside” the Universe, as such concepts have no meaning. But it’s interesting that we can in some sense conceptualise it. I feel there must be some part of us that is from beyond this world, that retains a connection to the Outside, or that “remembers” in some sense, coming from Outside.

    If I got cancer (G-d forbid) I would of course go to an oncologist and do all I could to defeat the disease according to the laws of science and this is entirely in accord with Jewish law: one is forbidden to put one’s trust in miracles, to try to force G-d’s hand, as it were. But I believe that there were sages who were on such a level that they either merited miracles, or had such an understanding of the world and its connection to the higher worlds that they could effect what appeared to be miracles.

    Our present understanding of quantum mechanics seems to present a challenge to our conventional understanding of cause and effect: it seems to be only a statistical phenomenon at the quantum level, and may even (according to one theory) give rise to parallel universes every time a probability wave function collapses. There is a Midrash which says that G-d did not create the Universe and then stand back, as it were, for it to unfold: it says that He is in constant creation mode, creating the Universe from moment to moment, almost as if He is supplying the causal connection between each discrete “quantum” of time, and the next. If this is true then the Universe unfolds according to natural laws only because of the constant will of G-d that it do so, and thus miracles become somewhat easier to accept: G-d “only” decides on a different outcome for one of the uncountable creation quanta, than the outcome that would be suggested by natural law.

  14. Stephen says:

    S2: you are correct that science is not a belief, but a system for evaluating belief; I suppose I was groping for some way to describe what I saw as the limits of science, as I have described above, and was also trying to develop an argument along a line based on a perceived symmetry between the scientific and religious perspectives, but I see that may have been forced. You are correct that the idea that science is merely a belief or a matter of opinion should be vigorously opposed; I feel that idea is something akin to moral relativism and empty multi-culturalism: values and ideas and beliefs are not all equal nor equally valid, and science should not be a matter of opinion or of consensus.

  15. Squander Two says:

    > on common sense: if it serves us well in the macro world, it could be that it is meant to guide human activity in the arena in which it normally takes place.

    Almost as if our instinct evolved.

  16. David says:

    I always found it strange that people who believe in creationism cannot accept notion that the universe “just happened” but quite happily accept the notion that a god exists and always has existed without any discussion of how.

    Like tm, I don’t really believe in a god but I’m not an atheist (I’ve argued with Gary on various occasions about the irrationality of *believing* there is no god based on empirical evidence) as I do find it hard to accept that the entire universe is so ordered by accident. There have been many scientists over the years that have strengthened their faith as they studied science as they couldn’t fathom how such complexity and order could have happened by random coincidence.

    It isn’t enough to make me a believer though, but I do reckon that whatever events created the universe are to damn complicated for anyone to comprehend and probably involve some multi-dimensional crap that we aren’t capable of even looking at.

  17. Gary says:

    Stephen, I think we’re coming at this from two very different directions. I’m not anti-faith: I’m anti-ID, and anti-faith in science classrooms. I should have been clearer in my original post: the people I want the Flying Spaghetti Monster to slap with his Noodly Appendage aren’t the faithful, but the people who would like non-science taught as science.

    > My religion does not deny the laws of science

    That’s the thing the ID movement (deliberately?) misses. Belief in evolution is not incompatible with faith- this is not an “either you believe in god and accept ID, or you believe in evolution and you’re an atheist” choice. It’s a “evolution is science and ID isn’t” thing :) My objection to ID is the same objection I’d have if homeopathy was given equal weight to science in a biology class. Particularly if homeopathy was a wedge strategy and its ultimate goal was to get rid of science and progress, to be replaced by a druid-led society :)

    S2 wrote:
    > the valid point that religion need not be bound by scientific knowledge has developed into a belief that science is merely a matter of opinion. Which is why news reporters now present pressure groups disagreeing with the conclusions of double-blind controlled studies as if it’s impossible to say who’s right.

    That’s it exactly.

  18. Squander Two says:

    > That’s the thing the ID movement (deliberately?) misses. Belief in evolution is not incompatible with faith

    Faith? No. But it is incompatible with large swathes of The Bible, not to mention what used to be core beliefs of all Christian churches. The Creationists may be wrong on the facts, but they’re right in their assessment of the conflict. The modern mainstream Christian approach that science and religion simply “address different issues” and that The Bible is largely figurative represents a major retreat: Christianity certainly used to explain the origins of the Universe and all life forms in it, in a very literal manner. Now it doesn’t. Science won. The Creationists have decided to stand and fight rather than retreat. They may be dishonest about (or not understand) what science is, but they have an excellent understanding of their own religion’s historical beliefs.

  19. Gary says:

    > But it is incompatible with large swathes of The Bible, not to mention what used to be core beliefs of all Christian churches.

    Oh, I agree. But if you take the view that the various religious books are of their time and use stories to make a point, rather than “this book is the literal word of god”, then the problem largely disappears :)

  20. Stephen says:

    I totally agree that ID should not be taught; it isn’t science. In a religious school the religious viewpoint would be taught in its part of the curriculum. I think the ID problem is a fall-out from the unfortunate state of schooling in America, where religion has been forced out of the classroom entirely, as a result of the teachers’ unions and their supporters’ opposition to voucher schemes and parental choice.

    On the Bible being the literal word of G-d: to imagine that the King James translation, or any other translation, into English via Latin, of the Torah, has captured one millionth of one percent of the meaning of the original, would be wildly optimistic, to say nothing of the fact that the Written Torah is the barest outline, something like the aide memoire, of the entire Torah, the study of the basics of which involves learning 72 large books. It takes more than a quick browse to know the word of G-d!

  21. Gary says:

    > I think the ID problem is a fall-out from the unfortunate state of schooling in America, where religion has been forced out of the classroom entirely, as a result of the teachers’ unions and their supporters’ opposition to voucher schemes and parental choice.

    Don’t you think that it’s more due to insane laws such as the long-standing ban on the teaching of evolution?

  22. Squander Two says:

    > Don’t you think that it’s more due to insane laws such as the long-standing ban on the teaching of evolution?

    Firstly, there is no long-standing ban. There was a brief ban, quickly overturned, a few years back, in Kansas. There may have been one or two others.

    Secondly, it’s the age-old problem: banning things doesn’t work. Kids smoke because it’s illegal for them. No pro-life campaigner could ever have dreamt of galvanising support for their cause as successfully as the Supreme Court’s blanket legalisation of abortion has done. And religious campaigners are fighting evolution in US schools because their religion has been completely banned from those schools.

    > But if you take the view that the various religious books are of their time and use stories to make a point, rather than “this book is the literal word of god”, then the problem largely disappears

    Yes it does, but it’s a major retreat. Christians could make a lot of other problems with their beliefs disappear by becoming atheists. Most people would view that as a climbdown.

  23. Squander Two says:

    (That second example may not look like a case of banning something, but it is. What was banned was the right of the electorate to decide legislation on the issue.)

  24. tm says:

    >I think the ID problem is a fall-out from the unfortunate state of schooling in America, where religion has been forced out of the classroom entirely, as a result of the teachers’ unions and their supporters’ opposition to voucher schemes and parental choice.

    That’s rubbish BTW – the reason religion isn’t in the classroom there is that it’s against the constitution – that is country build by lots of people from differnet backgrounds so secularism is dilberately built into the laws and so can be aggressively enforced by those who want to – particularly given the litigous nature of the american legal system. That’s also why you get things like ‘the holiday season’ rather than ‘christmas period’.

  25. Gary says:

    > There was a brief ban, quickly overturned, a few years back, in Kansas. There may have been one or two others.

    My apologies. I missed “in isolation”: there were at least two states that made it mandatory to teach creationism at the same time as evolution, or teach neither. Both were overturned in (I think) the 80s. And didn’t the laws that resulted in the Scopes trial hang around till the sixties?

    > Most people would view that as a climbdown.

    Heh :)

  26. tm says:

    >prime goal of life, which is to grow as much as possible, to nurture the Divine spark in ourselves, during our time in the physical realm, because once we leave it, no further growth is possible

    Incidentally that is your idea of what the goal of life is. It is completey at odds with several other quite popular conceptions of the reason for living (not least the plain old “Procreate!”). You’re entitled to belive what you want (indeed I wish you luck with finding fullfillment) – but you’ve effectively built in religion to your starting point, which is likely to make ever comming to a true understanding with those of us who don’t fairly problematic.

    Not that it’s not worth trying to of course ;-)

  27. Squander Two says:

    > the reason religion isn’t in the classroom there is that it’s against the constitution

    Hmm. The Constitution is open to interpretation in places — or downright sedition — and the militant atheist crowd certainly aren’t above using either when it suits them — see Roe vs. Wade. What the Constitution is supposed to prevent is having an official state religion, like pretty much every country in the world does. It’s not so long ago that Catholicism was against the law in Britain, even punishable by death, and that’s the sort of thing the US Constitution was intended to avoid. And, of course, there’s a huge difference between having an official school-sponsored religion with praying and stuff and just teaching children about the religion. I think Thomas Jefferson would be somewhat surprised to hear that he didn’t want any religion taught in schools. (That’s not to say that he’d necessarily be against the idea, mind.) And American teachers tend to give less of a shit about the Constitution when faced with a decision about whether to teach the kids about non-Christian religions.

    Also bear in mind that the Constituion predates Darwin. No-one everv knew this debate was going to come up. Because the issue isn’t the refusal to teach Christians’ kids Christianity; the issue is the insistence on teaching Christians’ kids that their parents are wrong.

    Personally, I’m all for religion-free schools, but I’m realistic enough to know the usual results of banning things. Parents are likely to get a bit riled when you teach their kids that they’re wrong, and riling people makes their beliefs stronger.

    > That’s also why you get things like ‘the holiday season’ rather than ‘christmas period’.

    No it isn’t. The Constitution says nothing whatsoever about which holiday greetings one may use or the legitimacy of Christmas. The reason for “Happy Holidays!” is the politically correct but barkingly insane belief that wishing a non-Christian a merry Christmas is somehow offensive.

  28. tm says:

    >politically correct but barkingly insane belief that wishing a non-Christian a merry Christmas is somehow offensive.

    Oh yes. And the consitutuion and it’s brutal enforcer tort law are the reason people can get away with forcing that – and the desparate wish not to offend anyone who can pronounce ‘lawyer’. I didn’t say I liked it, but the cause and result are still true – even if not intentional.

  29. Squander Two says:

    I’d be very interested if you could cite a case of someone suing someone else either for celebrating Christmas or for wishing someone “Merry Christmas”. I suspect you can’t.

  30. Gary says:

    Wasn’t the christmas thing a complete fabrication by the usual “political correctness gone mad” lot, like the sun’s Ba Ba Green Sheep story?

  31. richie says:

    I just thought the global warming vs number of pirates graph was really funny. All hail the Noodly Appendage.

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